Two Backpage Stories: Wilted Flowers and Limestone Pillars

by Fr. Stephen Siniari

[Summer, 2000]

   The bus pulled to the curb like a shimmering mirage. A boy said it was Tarzan-hot. Jungle-hot. Her old knees liquefied, barely lifting her up the steps. The driver pinched the rumpled transfer, damp with perspiration, from her hand. There was no seat. News-radio said many elderly were dying from the heat. She believed it. Her dress stuck to her. Sweaty palms slippery on the vertical handrail. The final leg in a ninety minute three-bus relay. Two weeks running. Her husband comatose in a hospital far across the city.

   Fifty years of marriage. Good companions. The house was lonely without him. He drove the car. Took her shopping. Cut the grass. Checked the windows at night. Complained about TV and the price of shoes. Even his complaining, she missed. They loved the Church. Very faithful, those two, about the Church. Both of them always there, doing one thing or another. She missed the Liturgy. A beautiful Flower Basket the Ladies Society had sent. Very expensive. She’d been part of committees who’d sent them to others. Say it? Never. But she thought it was a waste. A sin almost. So many people needed help. There must be a better way to put that money to use. She could just picture the basket on her dining-room table. After a week the flowers were somewhat wilted. She scolded herself for not remembering to throw them away. But she had so much to do.

   Morning to evening with her husband. Bathed him. Talked to him. Kept an eye on the feeding-tubes. Arranged his bedclothes. Turned him over. No bedsores on her boy, not on him. She was determined. Brushed his hair. Kissed his forehead. Staff was amazed at her faithfulness.

   She read him Morning Prayers. Akathists to Our Master, and to His Mother. Prayed aloud before the Icon of his patron Saint taped on the oxygen apparatus above the bed. She knew both he and God heard her prayers. She knew it. And she sang to him. And he heard it. Though he couldn’t tell her, he loved her company and her voice. She ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the hospital. Fell asleep in the chair next to his bed, held his hand and dreamt of when they were young.

   8am. She struggled from the bus. Her day of service to her husband was just beginning and already she was exhausted. From behind, she felt cool air on the back of her legs. A taxi door had opened. An elderly woman in a blue sweater got out and said, "Hello." She was carrying flowers to her husband. Same air-conditioned taxi, same time… And home again, each evening.

   I could never afford a taxi, she thought and hobbled through the revolving-door scolding herself once more for not remembering to throw away those wilted flowers.  "Got to be a better way," she thought, "to put that money to use…

   …On an ivy-league campus, a Roman-era limestone column from ancient Palestine is lying on a lawn. Behind it a homeless American teenager makes her bed. The column was donated by the "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on the occasion of the American Bicentennial, 1976…" The soil she sleeps on provides sustenance for the bush that grows and covers her. The same soil from which Orthodox people in America derive a living, build homes and churches, feed families, educate young and nurse the old; the same soil that receives us when we are called to give account for our talents.

   How shall we give thanks to God for placing us in this bountiful land? How should we react when the children of this nation sleep in the streets? Why has God placed us here? What does His Beloved Son empower us by the Holy Spirit to do? What does He ask of us?

   Seven Priests considered. Basically good individuals, they resolved to proceed independently and continue the practice of sending their separate parish collections directly overseas where they felt sure it would be in the hands of those who knew what to do.

   They had received a letter asking their people to support the efforts of the church’s international relief agency in ameliorating the suffering of victims on both sides of an ethnic war. They decided, no. Military planes from their country had bombed the countrymen of their forefathers and the church’s relief agency had fed the children of the enemy.

   Next to be considered, an appeal to help provide shelter for homeless youth in their town. "No." They said. "If we help them, the religious group who sponsors that work will get the credit, and not us."

   The girl curled beneath the bush read the sign of dedication and thanked God for the donation of an ancient Roman-era Palestinian limestone pillar by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on the occasion of the American Bicentennial, 1976.


Fr. Stephen is the pastor of SS Peter and Paul Albanian Orthodox Church in Philadelphia and works for Covenant House.  

  Click here for other articles in his series - Good and Faithful Servant 

   and for his series - The Mission Diary.

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